Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Abs Like the Man of Steel

Here is an article I wrote for Interesting Times Magazine. Interestingly enough, I don't think that magazine exist anymore, so here ya go!

Abs Like the Man of Steel
For most of my adult life, I have wanted to be Superman, or Batman, or Wolverine. I have always had an infatuation with super heroes. This is one of the things that lead my friend, Mike McNiff, and I to write Becoming Bulletproof: An Uncommon Approach to Building a Resilient Body. We want to be like superheroes, physically capable of doing anything without the fear of getting injured. 
One of the secrets to becoming bulletproof is to have a very strong mid-section, abs of steel, if you will. And no, I am not referring to an aesthetic “six pack”, though having a set of chiseled abs never hurt anyone. I am talking about a real, solid center that ties the upper body to the lower body together.
Now, before you drop on the floor and start doing crunches again, you should know that I do not believe doing traditional "ab exercises" will build a strong midsection. Your midsection is built to stabilize your torso and efficiently transfer forces generated from your lower body through your upper body. In other words, your core, or your midsection, is designed to transfer force and hold you upright. Sit-ups and crunches do not address this design. 
There is, however, an exercise that does address this design. An exercise that you once did with grace and strength, but you may not be able to now. An exercise so easy, even a baby could do it: crawling. Before you start shouting an explicative of disbelief, let’s take a closer look!
Babies earn and develop their strength by learning how to move. When a baby starts learning how to crawl, the child is building a powerful muscle girdle, or midsection, that will prepare his or her body to walk, to run, to jump, to throw, etc. Crawling teaches the shoulders and the hips how to work together; it ties the muscles of the core together. Input from the hands, arms, legs and feet teach the muscles of the midsection how to function and support the torso. Crawling gets the midsection ready to transfer force!
Crawling, specifically Spider-man crawling, is a great, easy way to start developing a midsection that Superman would envy. Spider-man crawling is done on the hands and feet with the butt held in a low position. The butt is down low, and the head is up to see where you are going. Just holding your body in this position takes strength. Getting used to being in this position builds strength. Reflexively, every time your hands and feet (especially if you are barefoot!) touch the ground, you reinforce strength and dynamic stability. The proprioceptors in your palms and feet signal your muscles to fire. If you get the chance, watch someone spider-man crawl. You will notice that their lats contract as soon as their hands hit the ground. This is also happening in the muscles you can't see like the muscles of the rotator cuff. Spider-man crawling ties the core, the body, together and prepares it to transfer force. Spider-man crawling builds strength. 
Spider-man crawling makes a great warm-up, or movement preparation, for any training session. I believe it will even improve the outcome and performance of the training session. While spider-man crawling can be a great warm-up, it can also be a great training session in, and of, itself. Don't believe me? Just try spider-man crawling for 5 minutes. If you hit one minute off the bat, I'll be impressed. Another great thing about spider-man crawling is that it is easy to progress. You can crawl backwards or sideways. You can crawl for time or distance. You can even drag things or add weight to yourself when you crawl. All these progressions are effective and equally brutal ways to increase your strength. 
From my own personal experience, I was never able to perform a naked warrior pushup (one arm, one leg pushup) until I started spider-man crawling backwards. Over 20 years of traditional weight training never enabled me with the strength to be able to perform that style of pushup. After just a few weeks of backward spiderman crawling and I was a naked warrior! Don't get me wrong, weight training did make me stronger as far as weight training goes. But weight training did not enable me to be able to handle my own bodyweight the way that spider-man crawling did. Spider-man crawling helped fill in the gaps in my strength; it tied me together.
Some of you reading this may find that spider-man crawling is too much of a challenge. It may really tax your strength or your ability to coordinate your limb movements together. If you cannot find your rhythm, moving opposite arm and leg together, or if you cannot keep your butt down low, you may need to start out with traditional baby crawling (on your hands and knees). Baby crawling can help lay the foundation of limb coordination and core strength to prepare you for spider-man crawling. 
Again, I believe a strong midsection is a key, if not the key, to becoming bulletproof. If you want to be strong, really strong, you need to have a strong midsection, or core. Spider-man crawling is a great way to achieve a very strong core. There are other benefits to spider-man crawling as well like brain development, coordination, balance, proprioception, and much more. In fact, as we mentioned in Becoming Bulletproof, I believe crawling is a "reset button" for the body; it sets things right. 
You can incorporate Spider-man crawling into your training sessions or even in your daily warm-up. However you do it, make sure you do it. Find a way to crawl. You will develop abs like the Man of Steel. Or maybe that should read: abs like Spider-man?

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